Bill blocks payment for abortions for incest, rape victims

Poor Iowans would be prohibited from having a taxpayer-paid abortion in cases of rape or incest under an amendment to a budget bill approved by a House committee this week.

Existing state law follows federal requirements and allows the use of Medicaid money to pay for abortions in those situations and when a mother’s life is threatened.

Civil rights and abortion rights groups were quick to sound an alarm about the amendment.

“What are we saying here?” asked Randall Wilson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. “We’re saying that if a rich woman is raped, she can get an abortion because she can afford one, but a poor woman will have to bear the child. There’s no social justice in that.”

Wilson said, “It’s an attempt to take away the reproductive rights of poor women.”

Medicaid-paid abortions for rape and incest are rare in Iowa. State records dating to 2005 show no state or federal money was used to pay for abortions in those situations, said Roger Munns, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Every state but South Dakota follows the federal requirements, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health advocacy organization in New York.

The Iowa proposal mirrors South Dakota law: It allows Medicaid to pay for abortions only when a mother’s life is jeopardized and not in cases of rape or incest.

Iowa human service officials were investigating Wednesday whether Iowa would risk losing billions of dollars in federal Medicaid grants if the proposed legislation were adopted. However, federal officials have not taken such action against South Dakota.

Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, chairs the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, where the provision was added. He does not believe the state would face the loss of federal grants should the prohibition be adopted.

“My caucus feels very strongly that in the case of rape and incest that the person inside that woman’s body is innocent to the act,” Heaton said. “Even though he was born under horrific circumstances, he’s an innocent person that’s entitled to live a full life.”

Iowa’s bill also would eliminate Medicaid payment for abortions in cases where a doctor certifies significant deformities that make it unlikely the baby would survive if delivered.

Federal laws do not require Iowa’s Medicaid program to pay for or perform abortions of fetuses that are deformed. In the last calendar year, Iowa Medicaid paid for 27 abortions, five to save the life of the mother and 22 in cases that met the criteria for a deformed fetus.

The average cost for a state-paid abortion is $1,592.

Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said pregnant victims of rape and incest deserve health care services regardless of their economic status.

“It’s cruel and hurtful to take away funding from a woman with financial hardships who has been through such a horrifying crime,” June said. “This is just another proposal to limit abortion services, and it would hurt a woman more during a devastating situation.”

The provision to restrict Medicaid-paid abortions was included in subcommittee action this week as part of a budget document that outlines House Republicans’ plans for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, expressed doubt the amendment would survive in the Senate. But he said the bill would be considered should it pass the House.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110317/NEWS10/103170339/0/OPINION04/?odyssey=nav|head

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